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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Big Red Lollipop, written by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Viking, Penguin. 2010. $21.00 ages 5 and up

"At the party, I'm the only one
who brought her little sister.
Sana has to win all the games,
and when she falls down during
musical chairs, she cries like a

This is a perfect read aloud for the early grades. Rukhsana Khan knows the young and their many concerns. In this appealing and relevant book, she writes about family expectations and their resulting difficulties.

Rubina is so excited when she is finally invited to her first birthday party. She rushes home to tell her mother, who knows nothing about such parties and insists that Rubina take her younger sister Sana with her. Rubina is noticeably upset, knowing that none of the other invited guests will have to bring a younger sister. Ami insists and Rubina must call her friend to be sure it is all right. Rubina knows it is an unusual request. If she wants to attend, she must bring Sana.

At the party Sana does just what Rubina expects...she spoils her fun and the party itself. They both receive party bags as they are leaving and Sana is quick to eat the 'eatables' and demolish everything else. Rubina puts her red lollipop on a shelf in the fridge and dreams of enjoying it tomorrow.

As is often the case with younger siblings, Sana cannot resist tasting Rubina's red lollipop and eats most of it. That creates another stir...and Rubina is admonished for not sharing. She does not cry, showing great willpower. Though the lollipop incident is quickly forgotten, the lack of invitations to any other birthday party is hard to ignore. Oh, what you would like to do to that little sister!

 In a surprise turn, Rubina offers a suggestion when Sana comes home with her first invitation and Ami repeats the ultimatum...Rubina and Maryam go, or Sana does not. Rubina gives wise counsel to her mother, following her own experience.  Sana is grateful.

 The ink and watercolor drawings provide detail and emotion, as an immigrant child  struggles to find her way in a new environment. The observant reader will note the universal feelings of anger at a sibling, disappointment in not being included, and the maturity that comes with experience.  It is a story that invites discussion, and acts as a mentor text for those wanting to tell a family story of their own.

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